October 23

In Novgorod

Either Olga misspoke or I misunderstood, but it was supposed to be 6:30, not 5:30. But our departure was leisurely, and we were treated to a spectacular sunrise as we waited for a tram. Andrei met us at a metro station on the way to the bus depot. He presented me with a coin commemorating the 750th anniversary of Alexander Nevsky's victory over the Teutonic Knights outside Novgorod. I felt bad; all I'd given him was a Koosh ball. But monetary value isn't the point of the exchange of gifts, I know.

The bus ride was not too interesting. We passed through countryside similar to what we saw on the way to St. Petersburg. A bit better-maintained, actually. Few of the houses looked like they were ready to fall apart, and most were fairly large. It was a clear, sunny day (the sunrise in St. Petersburg was beautiful) but cold, maybe -10C. I had a slightly sore throat and a runny nose, either a cold or a flu, most likely. I tried unsiccessfully to sleep on the bus, and settled instead for watching out the window, where there'd be the occasional farmer picking the last few vegetables from a field, a woman herding sheep, or some children playing on the ice.

We arrived in Novgorod at about 12:30 with eight hours until our train to Moscow. Unfortunately, even with two sweaters and a jacket on, I was too cold to properly appreciate the place. The town is much quieter than Moscow or SP, with people walking along the streets in no particular hurry, and with none of the population density of those cities. I believe Novgorod has a lot more breathing room than its two huge neighbors, and the fact that it isn't largely designed to be a Big Soviet City will allow it to much more easily adapt to the coming social and economic changes. Or maybe not. What do I know?

We walked from the bus/train station to the kremlin after stowing our bags in a storage area. The city center is beautiful, a mix of buildings from the 12th to 20th centuries, some under repair. Unfortunately, several of the churches are now owned by the Orthodox Church and we weren't able to see inside.

After a couple hours we ate dinner at a church-turned-restaurant along the kremlin wall: a potato-mushroom stew, some borscht, chicken in cream sauce, and some kvas which Olga said tasted strange. The waitress advised Olga not to order the first thing she wanted, because the ingredients had gone bad. When we were done, we went to a movie to kill some more time. I thought it would be a Russian film, but it turned out to be a Christopher Lloyd movie I'd never heard of. At least this one was on real film instead of video.

Then we waited for the train for an hour and a half or so. I sat next to a bunch of women from a Middle Asian republic who were alternately arguing loudly and tending to a couple of babies. At one point the woman closest to me got up and went to the toilet. An expensively-dressed Russian woman with thick makeup took the seat and refused to get up when its original occupant returned. I wrote for a while then switched to staring at the floor and wall.

Olga had prepared me for the worst, a smelly, filthy cabin with obnoxious roommates and a hole in the window. To our mutual delight, she was wrong. The cabin was clean and we shared it with a quiet, friendly man. I was ready to go to sleep with my jacket on, largely because I was keeping some of my money in an inside pocket and had read lots of stories of people being robbed as they slept. Olga wisely made me dress as normal for sleeping, definitely a good choice since the cabin heated up considerably once we were underway. I would have been extremely uncomfortable fully dressed. As it was, the heat, the motion, and lingering paranoia about robbery kept me awake or half-asleep most of the night. By the time we reached Moscow at 6:00 I was pretty well exhausted, and the lack of sleep had worsened my cold or flu or whatever it was. Still, I was glad to be back.

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